INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Slingbox Succeeds for Watching Japanese TV in the U.S.


TOKYO — In my July 13 column (“Keeping Connected While in Japan”), I wrote about how to keep digitally tethered while in Japan by using a Wi-Fi hotspot and a VPN (virtual private network). I also alluded to something I wanted to try while in Japan, namely setting up a Slingbox in order to watch Japanese TV via the Internet while in the U.S.

Why would anyone want to do that? For students of Nihongo, watching Japanese TV is a great way to supplement one’s language studies. Fans of Japanese dramas and anime can also stay up to date with the new stuff. There is also news coverage of Japan that would either be overlooked by U.S. media or perhaps have a different perspective. Then there are sports: Japanese pro baseball, sumo, volleyball, judo, golf, swimming, not to mention quadrennial events like the Olympic Games. Even basic curiosity is a valid reason why someone might want to watch Japanese TV.

Meantime, there is a huge potential market for Japanese nationals — students, business people, spouses, expatriates and emigrants — living and working in the U.S. who’d like to watch actual, honest-to-God Japanese terebi.

The problem is how. When it comes to watching real-time (or DVR’d) Japanese TV, the options are few, especially if you want to stay within the bounds of the law or aren’t looking for all kinds of weird, questionable and complicated Internet hoops to jump through. Meantime, the capability to watch some Japanese shows via UTB on Channel 18 diminished in 2016 (see the Rafu Shimpo story at http://tinyurl.com/ybk59laj), and the July 1 L.A. Times reported that KSCI Channel 18’s Asian/international programming was ending.

There is NHK World, a news and feature channel that is in English and can be accessed via cable, streaming and over the air. Subsidized by the Japanese government and therefore commercial-free, it’s actually pretty good for what it is — but it’s not domestic Japanese TV.

Another option is TV Japan (https://tvjapan.net/en/about-tv-japan/), a somewhat limited service available on some cable systems and the Dish Network for satellite (unavailable via satellite TV provider DirecTV, incidentally). You have to already be a subscriber to some sort of paid tier of cable or satellite service, then add TV Japan for a cost between $15 to $25 a month. That adds up rather quickly and looking at the offerings, to me it’s not that much for the money.

What about streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, et al? Netflix and Hulu offer domestic Japanese versions with some Japanese programming, but unless you’re using a VPN that allows you to access the Japanese versions of those services while in the states, you’ll be blocked. (There are also recent news reports that Hulu’s Japan service has been having problems.)

So what else is there for someone who wants to watch Japanese TV outside of Japan? Enter the Slingbox.

OK, what’s a Slingbox? Well, it’s both the name of the American company that invented it and the name of the streaming device that interfaces between your home TV system and the Internet, and then sends that content — live, network programs or shows you’ve recorded on your DVR — to your computer, smartphone or tablet for viewing via the Slingplayer app. It also works with Roku boxes, via the Slingplayer app for Roku. (There are also ways to get that same content onto a big screen TV via “screen mirroring,” like Airplay for Apple TV.)

VCRs (remember those?) back in the 1970s introduced the concept of time-shifting, or recording a show broadcast at a certain time so that it could be watched later. The Slingbox, which was originally introduced in 2002, introduced the concept of place-shifting, or being able to watch what would be on your home TV, but away from your home. In the intervening years, with the growth of streaming, smartphones, tablets and DVRs, the Slingbox’s capabilities and ease of use grew.


Turns out I already had a Slingbox M1 that I set up at home, connected to my Channel Master DVR+, used for recording over-the-air terrestrial TV signals. I got it when I was commuting via the Expo Line train to downtown Los Angeles (you can read about that experience at http://tinyurl.com/y9mefwv4) so I could watch shows I recorded.

Lately, though, I wasn’t using it too much, so I figured I’d bring it with me to set up for my wife’s benefit at her brother’s home Japan.

In a nutshell, I succeeded. The picture quality on iPhone and iPad is astoundingly good — I’m talking high-def, 1080p. But it took me a couple attempts to get it right. Even though I brought with me all the extras I thought I needed — an HDMI-to-RGB converter, an ethernet cable to connect the M1 to the broadband router, etc., I was unaware that I also needed a cable to connect the RBG out from the Slingbox to something called a D-terminal, which is a domestic Japanese connector for high-def video. (The RCA audio cables worked without a hitch.) There were no inputs for RGB plugs on the back of the TV, unlike my Sony TV in the U.S.

Fortunately, I got help my niece to find the nearest electronics store to buy a D-terminal to RGB cable. She found a place that was a train ride and a short walk away that sold what I needed, and I bought such a cable before the store closed.

With that, I used my laptop to set it up, which included doing a hard reset on the M1. That almost didn’t happen because there was no paper clip to be found in the apartment! But there was one of those cool Japanese mechanical pencils whose tip was the perfect size for the recessed reset button. It worked.

Next was figuring out how to get the correct virtual remote control for the particular model of Sony DVR my brother-in-law owns; that took a while, but I finally got that to work, too! (A virtual remote is an onscreen version of a physical remote control, with full functionality, including being able to set a timer to record a show on a particular channel.)

Thanks to his broadband connection — and you need broadband on both ends — I could now access the free terrestrial digital TV, BS (broadcast satellite) and CS (communications satellite) channels. Since it’s connected to a DVR, that also means being able to time-shift as well as place-shift Japanese TV shows. Wow.

The great thing is it’s 100 percent legal and once the upfront costs of the hardware are paid for, there are no